Key communication skills for doctors and how to acquire them

patient1 (2)Peter Maguire, Carolyn Pitceathly

Good doctors communicate effectively with patients—they identify patients’ problems more accurately, and patients are more satisfied with the care they receive.

What are the necessary communication skills and how can doctors acquire them?
When doctors use communication skills effectively, both they and their patients benefit. Firstly, doctors identify their patients’ problems more accurately.

Secondly, their patients are more satisfied with their care and can better understand their problems, investigations, and treatment options. Thirdly, patients are more likely to adhere to treatment and to follow advice on behaviour change.

Fourthly, patients’ distress and their vulnerability to anxiety and depression are lessened.

Finally, doctors’ own wellbeing is improved.

We present evidence that doctors do not communicate with their patients as well as they should, and we consider possible reasons for this. We also describe the skills essential for effective communication and discuss how doctors can acquire these skills.

Summary points

  • Doctors with good communication skills identify patients’ problems more accurately
  • Their patients adjust better psychologically and are more satisfied with their care
  • Doctors with good communication skills have greater job satisfaction and less work stress
  • Effective methods of communication skills training are available
  • The opportunity to practise key skills and receive constructive feedback of performance is essential

Current evidence suggests that the good doctor who attends short residential workshops or courses to improve his or her skills and then has an opportunity to receive feedback about how he or she communicates in real consultations will learn most. Doctors will find that both they and their patients benefit. Patients will disclose more concerns, perceptions, and feelings about their predicament, will feel less distressed, and be more satisfied. Doctors will feel more confident about how they are communicating and obtain more validation from patients.

Good doctors will wish to continue their learning over time by self-assessment (recording their own interviews and reflecting on them) or attending further courses or workshops.

Download paper on Communication Skill Doctors

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